I say that we don’t worry about the hobbyists – don’t dissuade them from coding in .NET, but don’t cater to them either.
I understand where he’s coming from, but I think that the terminology is confusing the issue. When we talk about “hobbyist programmer,” it evokes images of guys tinkering in their garages or in their basements on the weekend. And, yeah, maybe if it was just the equivalent of a bunch of guys (or gals) building model trains or making furniture or rebuilding old cars, it wouldn’t matter so much. But the reality is that the hobbyist programmer doesn’t just program on the weekends – they’re also programming during the week at their “real” jobs.
Before I started working on VB, I worked on Access. And I cannot count the number of times that customer testimonials started along the lines of “I was fooling around with Access one day and managed to write this small app to help manage my group. Once my department found out about it, they started using it to manage the department. Now my whole company uses it!” One of the key aspects of Access’s success was this kind of “viral adoption” where some tinkerer used it to solve some local problem that ended up solving a company-wide problem. The same holds for VB – lots of VB applications in corporations started life as someone’s side project. As I put it in a recent presentation, “Throwaway applications have a way of becoming mission critical applications.” And where do those throwaway applications come from? Hobbyist programmers.
With the spread of computing into more and more industries, the people who don’t consider themselves programmers become more and more important because they’re the beachhead for “real programming” to make its way in. For example, the throwaway applications that hobbyists write ultimately helps drive demand for professional programmers to come in and “professionalize” the applications so that they scale correctly for the corporation. Also, as hobbyist applications make companies more open to the benefits of technology, they open the door to commercial software that can augment or replace the homegrown applications and maybe do a better job. And, of course, hobbyist programmers usually need lots of help, which drives demand for websites, magazines, books, consultants, etc.
So, in much the same way that small businesses serve a vital function in keeping the economy going so that large corporations can thrive, hobbyists play a vital role in sustaining the ecosystem that supports the professional programmers. Even if the professional programmers don’t always appreciate that…